|Guns N Roses Chinese Democracy||Geffen Records|
It's hard to know where to start with this one. This is one of those albums I just love reviewing (note the use of sarcasm) – because I'm screwed either way!|
There are so many passionate opinions on this band from just about every quarter, so no matter which way I review this, I will hear from someone unhappy about something! Guaranteed.
Chinese Democracy - the most expensive record ever made…the longest wait for any new album by a band…the most number of band members coming and going and contributing in some part…the most epic record ever…or perhaps the biggest flop in all rock n roll history?
All valid comments or questions raised in relation to Guns N Roses' most talked about Chinese Democracy release.
Is it the best rock record ever released? No. Is it Guns N Roses? Not in the standard image of the name, no. Worth a 13 year wait? Absolutely not. But a complete disaster? Some will say so, but objectively speaking, no…it certainly isn't that. Its actually rather good all things considered, but it has so many things stacked against it that even if it was Dark Side Of The Moon or Physical Graffiti, it would still attract the same amount of criticism.
There are some very worthy moments on this album and some truly epic soundscapes. But there's also a few ingredients missing. It doesn't make sense for a record that has taken so long to be released to be under done, but it almost feels unfinished in places.
To really accept this record for what it is, one must put the name Guns N Roses out of your mind. GNR has always signified dangerous rock n roll to me and Chinese Democracy may be grand, adventerous and truly epic, but dangerous it isn't.
The album is the sole vision of frontman and vocalist Axl Rose and for that you must give him credit. But at the same time, he must also be responsible for any shortcomings.
I have not rushed into a review of this record. I note that major press outlets must quickly pass judgment and I think generally speaking the critical feedback has been understandably mixed.
But I have chosen to live with it as long as possible to best get to know the record.
I must say that Appetite For Destruction has been on my shelf for the full 21 years since it was released. I was one of the first to purchase it, before the hype kicked in and it remains an all-time classic for me and an album I still admire. Such a record was a snapshot of an era and could never be repeated, so I never expected such with Chinese Democracy.
There is a certain intensity about this record, but overall I found it to be mellower than expected. And due to the length of time it has taken to get this out, some of the industrial and programmed elements of the music doesn't sound as innovative as it could have. Had this record emerged in 2000-2002, then I think it would have sounded more groundbreaking.
Some have hailed this record as a work of art that will influence the way music is made and help bring rock back to the fore. I don't see that in any way. Any big selling rock record is a good thing, but this isn't likely to influence a new generation of kids.
What is missing for me is the big riffs and the big choruses. Every track of Appetite yielded a killer hook and Use Your Illusion had that experimental style, but still with that dangerous edge.
But Chinese Democracy is not a hit single kind of record. Individual songs are not necessarily the way to appreciate this record. It sounds better played as a whole, from start to finish…certainly not an iTunes friendly release in the day and age of kids picking out individual songs of an artist.
That aspect I really like…as I feel the art of creating a musical landscape is dying in some way. But in-between there are not enough peaks and valleys for me. Not enough light and shade.
Track By Track:
I'm not sure what kind of intro would best suit an anticipated album such as this, but the title track Chinese Democracy kicks off pretty much as expected. A slow building intro, then a riff to break through the mood, followed by a shrill scream and a loud burst of musical exuberance. Axl varies his vocal delivery to great effect and guitar solos run left and right over the base riff of what is a fairly solid and aggressive hard rocker.
Shackler's Revenge takes the industrial influences to the forefront, together with a gruff spoken vocal and effects dropped in everywhere. The chorus isn't an epic hook, but is driven by a good guitar sound and when Axl takes his voice up that octave or two, you get a reminder of what this band was once all about.
The uptempo rocker Better is an unusual track. It seems to be the fan pick, largely due to a verse with a certain swagger and attitude, but for some reason I am just not warming to it. Perhaps I was affected by the demo leaks from the last few years and decided I had no great interest in the track.
The first ballad of the release is the decidedly 70s sounding Street Of Dreams. Mixing November Rain with Axl's known love of Wings and Paul McCartney, the lead vocal is definitely something fresh and interesting. The piano and acoustic guitars help paint a picture, but this song is all about Axl and his passionate delivery. I wasn't sure what to make of the track to start with and perhaps I'm still not sure. But it is an epic piece of music crammed into just 5 minutes. Changing tempos, orchestration, guitar work reminiscent of Slash and the whole 70s pomp element is certainly a lot to absorb. I would have liked to have herd this song pushed even further into 7 or 8 minutes and let Axl's ideas fully flourish.
If The World is another truly curious piece of music, with an album hip hop beat driving orchestration and a fairly whiney vocal. There is no real chorus and to me the song sums up just about everything traditional fans might hate about this album.
There Was A Time flows from the last song with another programmed beat kicking things along. The nearly 7 minute track is driven by a much harder edge guitar sound and further orchestration. The verse and general song structure is interesting and this is definitely a worthy epic. The closing couple of minutes of musical intensity are the strongest part.
Catcher In The Rye is another big rock track that is part ballad, part frenzied guitar epic, with both parts featuring a healthy dose of piano. Again, no huge or definitive chorus, but some interesting musical decisions that hold interest while getting to know the album, but perhaps not for a long time after.
Scraped is a busy, guitar fueled rocker and at 3:30 is the shortest track on the album. Again, no big chorus or defining moment, I feel as if this track comes and goes without making a mark.
Riad N' The Bedouins has an intensely moody intro filled with effects, before an angry vocal and big riff take hold. Once again the chorus is a change of pace within the song rather than a defined riff or lyric hook. That's symptomatic of the whole album and it is a style that some are really not going to like.
The 6 minute moody Sorry is a big rock ballad with a dark heart and its own individual personality within the greater album. Once again, I'm not sure I'll be listening to the song for any length of time once this review is done.
I.R.S. is one of the more legendary tracks of the album, with demo versions leaking early in the game. I like the track and the lyric cuts deep.
The big rock ballad Madagascar kicks off with an epic feel, hinting of what might be to come. But while the song does build and feature more orchestration and multiple layers of instrumentation, I don't find myself warming to the track. And the historic spoken word drop-ins mid-track doesn't add anything to it. And did we really need to hear the line "failure to communicate" yet again?
This I Love has been touted as the ballad of the album. A heartfelt piano ballad with a powerful and emotional lyric and vocal from Axl. And yeah, it is good for sure. The orchestration is immense and the vocal something we haven't heard from Axl before. Tasteful guitar solos add atmosphere rather than derailing the intent of the song.
Prostitute is an interesting closer with several different approaches during the 6 minute stay. There an underlying moodiness to the track and some interesting instrumentation again (as there is throughout the album) and generally speaking the melodies within the song demand repeat listens.
There are a couple of classics here and a few fillers also. It is better than I expected for sure, but how does any record possibly live up to the hype of years worth of fan anticipation. In many ways the myth and legend of Chinese Democracy has proved to be greater than the actual release, which is probably the least surprising element of this whole crazy chapter of rock n roll history.
One way or the other, for better or worse, this album will certainly be remembered.
include("f-review.p3"); retrieve("gnr-cd",0,1); ?>